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Garrett Wade Guide: DIY Hatchet Handle
How to Make a Hatchet Handle
At Garrett Wade, we collaborate with tons of experts and crafters to help them share their experiences with our customers. One of our woodworkers has decided to share their DIY hatchet handle adventure so you, too, can learn how to make a hatchet handle. Follow along with their story here!
In the Beginning...
About a year into their carving journey, this expert decided that they wanted a better carving hatchet. They had been using a cheap one with a plastic handle that they bought at the local hardware store. After asking his dad, an avid antique collector, they found some rusty hatchet heads that he had gotten in a free box of tools. They picked one made by Sandvik with the initials JRG carved into the side.
From the very beginning of creating this DIY hatchet handle, this craftsman fell out of their depth. They muddled their way through shaping a handle out of a hickory log and hafting the head, but the moment it was finished, despite making several rookie mistakes, they were overcome by a powerful realization: they had successfully made their own tool!
The Importance of Tools
Whether you have a hatchet in your garage with a broken handle or have looked longingly at buckets of rusty axe heads in antique shops, knowing how to put a new handle on a tool is a crucial skill. There are few things as satisfying as restoring an old tool with a broken handle back to its former functional glory.
In this article, we’re going to show you how to make and attach a new hatchet handle for a chopping tool (hatchets, axes, adzes, mauls, etc.). Feel free to follow all the steps, or simply purchase a handle and use the later steps to learn hafting techniques.
Some Thoughts Before We Start
Don’t worry about perfection! Although that first DIY hatchet handle our now-expert made wasn’t perfect, it stayed strong and useful until it was upgraded several years later. The DIY hatchet handle in this article is an upgrade of that upgrade.
For this guide, we prefer a very short handle (about 10”) so that it doesn’t catch on the corner of the chopping block. A good handle length is anywhere from 12” to 24” for hatchets, 20” to 28” for camp axes, and 28” to 38” inches for splitting axes.
Some Useful Terms to Know
As you’re reviewing this guide for how to make a hatchet handle, we will be using some technical terminology. Review some of these terms to ensure you understand everything in our guide.
The metal top of the hatchet is called the head. It has a teardrop-shaped opening called the eye, where the handle attaches. In the eye, the wooden handle is attached with a wooden wedge that is glued and pounded into the ripped saw cut running from blade to back, known as the kerf cut. The eye of the hatchet is often wider at the top, so this wedge adds side pressure to the connection and results in a very tight fit.
The hatchet head sits on the handle at a wide point known as the shoulder. A good hatchet handle should be comfortable to hold and work with, often with a curved shape. The process of attaching a handle is called hafting.
Tools & Materials
- Your preferred profiling tool for the DIY hatchet handle
- Folding saw
- Sandpaper for finishing
- Soft Mallet, either wood or rubber
- A hardwood (ash and hickory are preferred) handle blank that is at least the width of the eye of your tool + ½”. The wider your blank, the curvier you can make your handle.
- A hatchet or axe head that is ready for a handle (rust removed, sharpened). We recommend you sheath or tape over the sharp edge with painter’s tape or masking tape to protect the blade.
- Hardwood wedge that is the width and length of the hatchet eye. It should be no thicker than 1/3 the eye width.
- Wood glue
- Boiled linseed oil or varnish for finishing
Before You Start Learning How to Make a Hatchet Handle
If your hatchet has a handle, it will need to be removed. Most handles that need replacing are easy to tap out.
- Begin by securing the hatchet head, handle side down, in a machinist vise.
- Place another piece of wood inside the eye on the top of the hatchet head and tap downward with your mallet.
- The handle should slide out of the eye.
- Tape over the edge of your hatchet to preserve the blade.
Make sure that your tool is free of rust (especially inside the eye of the tool). Rust is the byproduct of a chemical oxidation reaction that needs water to start. Rust will deteriorate the iron in your tool, causing deeper and deeper pockets over time until the tool is no longer usable.
For the strength and future working life of your tool, it’s essential to remove any rust from partsthat will not receive regular maintenance and care.
After completing all the previous prep steps, you’re now ready to start making and attaching your DIY hatchet handle.
1. Prepare the Blank
Draw on the shape of your hatchet handle with your pencil. You can do this free-hand or by tracing the existing handle of a hatchet that you like. Pay attention to the grain orientation, making sure your grain lines do not run off the edge of the handle. A strong handle will have several layers of grain running the entire length of the handle. Look down the length of your blank to make sure your drawing is straight and the center points line up.
We recommend that you add an extra inch of length to the head end to give you ample room for hafting. Mark the shoulder (where the hatchet head will sit) and trace the eye of the DIY hatchet handle on the head end of the blank. It’s helpful to add a little bit of width to the tracing of the eye because it’s much easier to take more wood off than to try to put some of it back on.
2. Shape the Profile of the Handle
Using your profiling tool of choice, shape the profile (the 2D drawing) of your DIY hatchet handle by removing the excess wood.
- First, saw stop cuts at the thinnest points of the handle to just shy of the pencil lines.
- Then, carve towards the stop cuts from either direction.
Be very careful not to hit the wood past the stop cut, or you will risk splitting off a piece of your handle. The more confident you are with hatchet carving, the closer to the lines you can get. If you are not comfortable using a hatchet or simply don’t have one with a handle yet, you’re welcome to cut out the profile on a bandsaw or shave it down with a drawknife.
3. Round Sharp Edges of the Handle
Beginning with your rasps, round any sharp corners and edges on your DIY hatchet handle. The overall shape of the handle should fit comfortably in your hand. Remove all rasp tool marks with the spokeshave until your handle is the desired shape and width.
4. Fit the Head
Using your eye tracing as a reference, shape the top of the DIY hatchet handle that will be hafted on the hatchet head with the rasp. The top inch will sit above the head and will be cut off at the end so that you can treat it as a practice zone.
Try to shape the entire head section at once by making long, even strokes with the rasp. The head should fit as evenly and tightly as possible on the handle. Once the head sits on the shoulder of your handle in the desired spot, trace the top of the head on the handle and saw along that line to remove the excess handle wood.
5. Sand the Handle
It’s much easier to finish your DIY hatchet handle before it’s attached to the hatchet head. Starting with 80 grit sandpaper, smooth the entire handle except the part that will connect to the head. When you’ve removed all tool marks and gotten your desired shape, increase the grit. Keep increasing the sandpaper grit until it’s as smooth as you want. Some people prefer smooth handles, while others purposely texture their handles to give them better grip.
6. Saw the Wedge Kerf
Draw a line across the eye from the back to the front, and down the front and back walls until just shy of the shoulder line. Using a pull saw or a bandsaw, cut along the grain from the top of the handle head to just shy of the shoulder. The kerf cut should be in line with the hatchet from blade to back.
7. Haft the Hatchet
Place the hatchet head on the handle. Tilt the hatchet sideways and hit the bottom of the DIY hatchet handle with the mallet. This will drive the head onto the handle through a mind-boggling display of physics. Then, clamp your hatchet handle upright in a vise, and align your hatchet head by tapping the head with a piece of scrap wood and your mallet on either side of the eye.
When you’re satisfied with your handle alignment, glue both sides of the wedge with a thin, even layer of wood glue. Tap the wedge into your kerf cut with your mallet until the handle is secure. Saw off excess wedge and handle materials above the eye using a finishing saw. Wipe up any excess glue and allow it to dry overnight. Once dry, sand the top of the handle and wedge.
Once the glue has dried, oil your DIY hatchet handle with boiled linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil is a drying oil, and it’s an excellent way to waterproof a wooden handle. Coat the entire handle (including the eye) with a nice even coat of oil and allow it to cure. Repeat at least two more times.
If there are any gaps between the eye of the hatchet and the handle, you can soak it in oil for a few days, and they should tighten up.
Guidance at Garrett Wade
Now that you know how to make a hatchet handle, you can build your woodworking repertoire that much faster. Explore our other woodworking how-to guides today and find ideas for your next project!